From Friday, August 17 through Thursday, August 30 BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, NY presents “Say It Loud: Cinema in the Age of Black Power, 1966—1981,” a screening series that explores revolutionary and relevant filmed records of a black consciousness and liberation struggle that continues to this day.
An exploration of contrasting European and American attitudes towards race in 1968, the film centers on an African American soldier stationed in Europe, who receives a promotion and a three-day pass to take the weekend off. And over the course of the three days, he meets and begins a love affair with a white French woman. However, racial prejudice and other complications bring their engagement to a halt.
Considered Melvin Van Peebles’ version of a French New Wave film — thanks to its use of jump cuts, freeze frames, photo-montage, and other experimental techniques, which give the film a surreal quality — “Three-Day Pass” is based on a novel he wrote (in French) titled “La Permission.” It was his feature film debut.
Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones) wrote a controversial, award-winning one-act brutal play about the fatal confrontation between a black man and a white woman on a subway, which inspired this feature-length adaptation. The film helped thrust Baraka into the limelight. The story follows a sinister, neurotic, lascivious white woman, who lures a black man to his doom after she picks him up on the subway.
Baraka wrote the play during a period when he was embracing Black Nationalism, and it shows: the woman is a clear-cut a metaphor for the United States’ treatments of African Americans.
A landmark of American independent cinema directed by Charles Burnett which examines black life in Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse. Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek or slow dancing with his wife in the living room.
The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life — sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.
Robert Downey Sr.’s funny, brilliant, and irreverent satire of Madison Avenue and the Black Power movement presents vignettes of an ad agency takeover by black nationalists. The film follows a token black employee at a Madison Avenue advertising firm who accidentally becomes the CEO of the firm, and turns the whole company on its head, radicalizing it in the process, although power ultimately corrupts the militants.
A sensation in its day that would become a cult classic, “Swope” still has the power to outrage and inspire — it’s a kind of utopian fantasy that offered black Americans at the time a (somewhat) realistic path for social change through infiltration and transformation of the capitalist system.
Melvin Van Peebles’ “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” is often the cinematic reference point for radical, subversive black cinema during one of the more contentious periods in American history. But the under-seen 1973 adaptation of Sam Greenlee’s controversial “The Spook Who Sat By The Door,” directed by Ivan Dixon, was potentially more lethal in its crafting and message.
With an effective score by jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the film presents the story of a black man hired to integrate the CIA, who uses his counter-revolutionary training to lead a black nationalist revolution.
The year is 1968: Director William Greaves and his student crew are in New York’s Central Park filming a screen test. The drama involves a bitter break-up between a married couple. But this is just the “cover story.” The real story is happening “off-camera” as the enigmatic director pursues a hidden agenda, leading to growing conflict and chaos among the students, which explodes on screen, producing a brilliant kind of raw energy and sociopolitical insight.
This cinema verite-style film-within-a-film, a unique 1960’s time capsule with a score by Miles Davis, is one of the most innovative movies about making movies.